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First person

I write therefore I am

By October 22, 2022No Comments



Fiadh Melina on finding yourself in your childhood writing


Sometimes I like to pull open the felt-bound drawers in my childhood bedroom. They’ve carried the weight of my words for years. Mostly stagnant now (the drawers, not my words). I touch them less and less. They don’t get dusty because my mom is a meticulous cleaner, but if we existed in a gothic novel they would be. Worn and dusty and a little haunted. But for a decade these drawers were used daily. I freehanded all my stories. Filled copies and pretty notebooks and stray pages with words because it felt like the most natural thing to do.

The words still sit in those well-worn drawers, waiting for me to revisit them. On the rare times I visit home, I’ll pull one or two notebooks out, to read through random sections, to reminisce over ridiculous storylines and laugh at my terrible spelling and even worse handwriting. I see stages of who I was, from age nine, throughout my teenhood. It’s incredibly cringey. It has also, more recently, become a goldmine of realisation. Through reading shards of my old writing, it became clear my characters had known things about my identity long before I did.

In English class we are told to write what we know. This comes before we are told to explore what we might like to know. At least, that’s how I was taught throughout primary and secondary education in southwest Kerry. Exploration was cut short before it could even begin. I spent a lot of time staring out the window, imagining.

I don’t remember much of primary school, but I can still vividly recall the scene where nine-year-old me declared I would be a writer. It was not a public declaration (writing = not cool or ‘hipster’ in rural Ireland during the noughties). I told my mom on a walk home from school, just the two of us on the little grass-addled boithrín. I would write a story about a horse called Rainbow, and so my first ventures into novel writing began.

Very soon the stories I wrote became gay. I use the term ‘gay’ in a very broad sense. Identifying as a queer person has come years after writing characters that broke gender and sexuality binaries. I didn’t realise at the time, but I was discovering myself through the possibilities I gave to my characters. It has taken until writing this piece for me to realise a horse character called Rainbow is possibly the gayest thing I have ever written.

The queer characters I wrote did not have queerness as their core plot lines, and maybe this was why I didn’t think it had anything to do with me. I just found, and still do find, writing to be something purely subconscious. If I think about it, that’s when things get forced and false (this makes synopses and outlines the bane of my existence). I never thought too deeply about what I was writing, so the last thing on my mind was relating the subjects to who I was. Maybe there was a disconnect because ninety percent of what I write is fantasy. And how could that possibly be about me?

This was where I tended to hit roadblocks in school. Writing exercises for English classes tended to be constrained to a mould, and that required ‘writing what you know’ in a very literal sense. I knew about the rural multi-ethnic family I grew up in, so I could write about that. I knew about horses, so I could write about them. I understand the sentiment behind this instruction. Not everyone has remained a daydreamer by the time we’re in secondary school, and that is absolutely fine. We all develop in our own ways. I was, however, daydreaming. Always.

The instruction helps as a foundation (yes, I wrote a story about horses and family when I was nine), but the daydreaming is what took me beyond.

Know Thyself.

The Ancient Greek looks far prettier and certainly more elusive; γνῶθι σεαυτόν
(gnothi seauton, if you’d like to know the transliteration)

The elusiveness is part of its charm. This form of ‘know yourself’ is based on humility and knowing one’s limits. It’s about embracing that which you don’t know, in order to know there is more to discover.

You might wonder how I could possibly be so oblivious to my own self for so long. It was mostly a case of survival. School, my mental health and many other factors were unkind to me at the time. I spent more time disassociating than I did actively living, so that’s how we’ve ended up here; me in my late twenties realising I was gayer and far more depressed for far longer than I ever realised.
On the less jolly rainbow-drenched spectrum of what my writing told me, was that I was an utterly depressed teenager. I didn’t know it at the time. I thought everyone was like that. We didn’t talk about mental illness online as much as we do now. I thought living in existential dread and darkness was normal.

The stories I wrote when I was a teenager were dark (queer elements and magic were also abundant, of course), and those pieces will remain in the shadows. They weren’t stories for the world, the way the stories I write now are. They were discovery, trauma and survival, which don’t need to be given air. Their purpose was served in that it allowed me to process, linger, and move past various stages of my mental illness. I don’t tend to read over those pieces. Maybe it is too soon or maybe I won’t ever need to.

‘Have you tried journaling?’ nearly every therapist I’ve tried in my twenties has asked. When you tell someone you’re a writer, they tend to assume journaling would be a fabulous form of therapy, but my answer would always be. ‘I don’t like it. It feels false.’ Because journaling insinuated thinking about feelings, and thinking about feelings clouded what was really going on. I suppose fictionalising and fantasising was my way of journaling. I have found medicine far more effective for dealing with the depression.

I wrote poetry for the first time when I was pregnant. Prenatal depression is a severe, ugly thing. It raised its head on me and I look back at those words I wrote, not always certain what they mean. Probably because I don’t understand poetry; it always feels very elusive, but that’s the beauty of it, like ‘know thyself’. I might return to them; I might not. I’m intrigued by what the freedom of being so deeply uncaring allowed me to write, but I think it is too soon to nudge that beast just yet. Knowing yourself is knowing your limits.

My writing has progressed. Significantly, I would like to think (thanks Oscar Wilde School of English and my growing circle of writer pals), in style and content and theme. I do write about things relevant to my experience but stories continue to grow past scopes far broader than that. They continue to surprise me. I’m still daydreaming, so it would be quite odd if my writing didn’t expand along with the possibilities of that mental exploration.

I consider my ‘old writing’ anything that hasn’t been written in the last two years, because my writing, like my self, is constantly growing, expanding. I will never know everything about everything and this used to fill me with dread, but now can I accept the wonder and chaos of it all. I realised that through writing fantasy. Magic helps explain a lot of things.